THE RED HAWK: A POEM
David A. Adams
Copyright © 2000
The Red Hawk
“The Desert Clans”
Retold in various verse forms
by David A. Adams
I begin in the style of John Milton, who wrote in blank verse to create his famous heroic narratives, “Paradise Lost,” and “Paradise Regained.” ERB’s own style of writing in this novel suggested the form to me, and as much as possible I have retained his own words in this reconstruction.
The January sun beat hotly down
Upon me as I reined-in Red Lightning
Upon the summit of a barren hill
And looked upon a rich land of plenty
That stretched away far as eye could see
Toward the mighty sea that lay a day’s ride,
Perhaps, to the westward - - the mighty sea
That none of us had ever looked upon - -
The sea as fabulous as a legend
Of the ancients over four hundred years
Since the Moon Men had swept down upon us,
Overwhelming Earth in revolution
In their most mad and bloody carnival.
In the near distance, green of the orange groves
Mocked us from below, and great patches of
Leafless nut trees spread out before the sand
That were vineyards waiting for April’s sun
Before they, too, broke into riotous,
Tantalizing green. From this garden spot
Of plenty a curling trail wound high up
The mountainside to the very level
Where we sat gazing fiercely down upon
This last stronghold of our terrible foes.
When the ancients built that trail it was wide
And beautiful indeed, but centuries,
Man, and the elements have defaced it.
The rains have washed it away in places,
And the Kalkars made great gashes in it
To deter us, their constant enemies,
From invading their sole remaining lands
And driving them into the ending sea;
And upon their side of the deep gashes
They have forts where they keep warriors always.
And well for them that they do so upon
Every pass that leads down into their country.
Since fell my great ancestor, Julian
Nine, in the year twenty-one-twenty-two,
At the end of the first, great uprising
Against the Kalkars, we’ve been driving them
Slowly, slowly back across our world.
That was over three hundred years ago.
For a hundred years they have held us here,
A day’s ride from the ocean. Just how far
It is we do not know, but in twenty-
Four-oh-eight my grandfather, Julian
Eighteen, rode alone almost to the sea.
He had won back almost to clear safety
When he was discovered and fast pursued
Almost to the tents of his strong people.
There was a battle, and the bold Kalkars
Who dared invade our country were destroyed,
But Julian eighteen died of his wounds
Without being able to tell much more
Than that a wondrous rich country abroad
Lay between us and a day from the sea.
We are desert people, herds ranging
Over a vast, barren territory
That we may be always near the high goal
Our ancestors set for us long ago - -
The shore of the western sea into which
Is is our destiny to drive at last
The remnants of our former oppressors.
In Arizona’s forests and mountains
There is rich pasture, but it is too far
From the land of the Kalkars where the last
Of the tribe of Or-tis make their last stand,
And so we prefer life in the desert
Near our foes, driving herds great distances
To green pasture when the need arises,
Rather than settle in lands of plenty,
Resigning never the age-old struggle,
The ancient, bitter feud between the house
Of Julian and the house of Or-tis.
To match the change of mood Burroughs delivers at this point in the RED HAWK, I now change to the verse form Henry Wadsworth Longfellow employed in his “The Song of Hiawatha.”
Light breezes move the long, black mane
Of the bright bay steed beneath me
As it moves my long, black tresses,
Falling loose from thong of buckskin,
Thong that encircles my own head,
Keeps it from brushing into my eyes.
Light breezes move the dangling ends
Of the fallen Great Chief’s blanket
Strapped with grace behind my saddle.
On the twelfth day of the eight month
Of the passing year just gone
This same Great Chief’s blanket covered,
Wrapped the shoulders of my father,
Julian the 19th, protected
From harsh rays of the desert sun.
I was twenty on that sad day
On that sad day my father fell
Before the lance of an Or-tis
In the Great Feud where we struggled,
And I became The Chief of Chiefs.
Surrounding me upon this day,
As I look down upon this land,
Land of my elder enemies,
Are fifty of the fierce chieftains,
Fierce chieftains of the hundred clans
That swear allegiance to the house,
The ancient house of Julian.
They are bronzed and, for the most part,
They are all young, beardless men.
Insignias of each brave clan
Are painted in diverse colors,
Painted savage on their foreheads,
High painted cheeks, broad painted breasts.
Ocher, they use, blue, white, scarlet;
Feathers mount from tight-wrapped head bands
That confine long, black waving hair.
Feathers of the vulture rise here,
Feathers of the hawk and eagle.
I Julian 20, warrior,
Wear but a single feather sign,
Strong feather from a red-tailed hawk -
The clan-sign of my family.
Here is the warrior called, The Wolf,
And in his portrait you will see
A near composite of us all.
He, a sinewy, well built man,
A man with piercing, gray-blue eyes
That glint and glance beneath straight brows,
Head well shaped like all our people
Denoting great intelligence.
His features strong and powerful
Are of a certain bold, fierce cast
That might well strike shock and terror
Into a foeman’s heart - - and do,
If the dried Kalkar scalps that fringe
His formal blanket stand for aught.
His breeches, wide below the hips
And skin tight above stout knees down
Are of the skin of the buck deer;
Soft boots, tied tight about the calf
Are also of the buck deer’s hide.
Above the waist a sleeveless vest
Of calfskin tanned hair-on rides loose;
The Wolf’s vest is of fawn and white.
Sometimes vests are ornamented
With tiny bits of colored stone
Or metal sewn into the hide
In certain manners of design.
From The Wolf’s barbaric headband,
Just above the right ear depends,
Swings the tail of a timber-wolf - -
The clan-sign of his family.
An oval shield, painted grimly
With the head of a timber wolf,
Hangs down about this chieftain’s neck,
Guarding back from nape to kidneys,
A stout, light shield with hard wood frame
Covered staunchly with a bull hide,
Fastened around with tails of wolves.
Thus each man, with the assistance
Of women folk, gives rein to fancy
In the matter of ornaments.
Clan-signs and chief-signs however,
Are most sacred; the use of one
To which he is not entitled
Might spell his death for any man.
Yet I say might only spell death,
For laws are not inflexible;
We have few laws, none are written.
Kalkars forever made up laws,
So we hate them, as the Kalkars;
Each case upon its own merits
Judged; we pay more attention to
What a man intended doing
Than what he did upon each day.
The Wolf is armed, as are the rest,
With a light lance eight feet in length,
A knife and a straight, two-edged sword.
A short, stout bow is slung below
His right stirrup leather - - quiver
Of arrows at his saddle bow.
The blades of his sword and his knife
And the metal of his lance tip
Come from a far place, Kolrado,
Made by a tribe that is famous
For the hardness and the temper
Of the metal of its keen blades.
Utaws bring us metal, also,
But so weak, we use it only
For the iron shoes that protect
Our horses’ feet from cutting sands
And rocks of our barren land.
Kolrados travel many days,
Travel hard and long to reach us,
Coming but once every two years.
They pass free and unmolested,
Through many foreign tribal lands,
Bringing us none else might bring us,
What we need in our long crusade,
Our never ending, dreary struggle
Against the race called the Kalkars.
It is the only thread that holds
Together scattered clans and tribes
That spread out east and north and south,
So far beyond the ken of man,
All driven by the same purpose - -
To drive the last of the Kalkars
Into the raging of the sea.
Back to blank verse
From the Kolrados we get meager news
Of clans beyond them toward the rising sun.
Far to the east, they say, so far away
That in a lifetime no man might reach it,
Lies another great sea, and in that east,
As here upon the world’s western edge,
A few Kalkars are making their last stand.
The rest of the world has been won back
By people of our own blood -- Americans.
We’re always glad to see Kolrados come,
For they bring us news of other peoples,
And we welcome the distant Utaws, too,
Although we are not a friendly people,
Killing all others who come among us,
Out of fear, chiefly, that they may be spies
Sent by the Kalkars. It is handed down
Father to son this was not always so,
And that once the people of the world
Went to and fro safely from place to place
Speaking the same language, but now it’s changed.
The Kalkars brought hatred and suspicion
Among us, until now we trust only
The true members of our own clans and tribes.
The Kolrados, coming oft among us,
We can understand, and we they fathom,
By means of a few words and many signs.
When they speak their own language together
We can but surmise occasional words
That are like one of ours. They say that when
The last of the Kalkars is driven out
We must live at peace with one another,
But that will never come to pass I fear,
For who would go through a whole life without
Breaking a lance or dipping his sword point
Now and then into the blood of a stranger?
Not The Wolf, I swear, no more The Red Hawk.
By the Flag! I take more real pleasure in
Meeting a stranger on a lonely trail
Than meeting a friend, for I cannot set
My lance against a friend and feel the swish
Of wind as Red Lightning bears me swiftly
Down upon the prey crouched in the saddle,
Nor thrill to the shock as we surely strike.
I am The Red Hawk; I am but twenty,
Yet to my will a hundred fierce chiefs bow --
Yea, to this twentieth proud Julian.
And from this year, 2434,
I can trace my heritage five hundred
Thirty-four years to the first Julian,
Most nobly born in 1896.
So from father to son, by word of mouth,
Has been handed down to me the story
Of every famous Julian, a strain
Untarnished, not blot upon the shield
Of one in that long line of warriors,
Nor shall there be a single blot or scar
Upon the shield of this 20th one.
From my fifth year to my tenth one I learned,
Word for word, as my father before me,
All the glorious deeds of my forebears,
To hate Kalkars and the tribe of Or-tis.
This, with riding, was my only schooling.
From age ten to fifteen I learned the use
Of cutting weapons -- lance and sword and knife,
And on my sixteenth birthday I rode forth
A grown man with other men -- a warrior.
As I sat there upon this heavy day,
Looking down upon this most fertile land
Long stolen by the accursed Kalkars,
My mind drifted back to the mighty deeds
Of Julian-15, who had driven
The Kalkars across the burning desert
And over the edge of these bright mountains
Into the warm, gentle valley below
Just one hundred years before I was born,
And I turned to The wolf and pointed down
Toward the green groves that rustled softly
And the distant hills and way off beyond
To where the mysterious ocean lay.
Rhyme scheme from “The Wanderings of Oisin” By W.B.Yeats
“For a hundred years they’ve held us here;
‘Tis too long.” “Too long,” the Wolf replied .
“When the rains are over Red Hawk’s spear
Leads his people into the other side.”
The Rock raised his savage lance and bow
And shook it toward the valley far below.
The bloody scalp-lock that aligned
Its metal-shod tip trembled in the wind.
“When the rains are over!” he cried.
His fierce eyes burned with homicide.
“The green of the groves we will make
Red with their blood,” cried the Rattlesnake.
“With our swords, not our mouths,” I said,
And wheeled Red Lightning toward the east.
The coyote laughed, and laughter increased
As we wound downward and spread
Out of the hills toward the desert land.
The afternoon upon the following day
We crept in sight of our tents outspanned
Beside The River’s yellow clay.
Yet, five miles before, three sullen
Puffs of smoke arose from a hill,
Telling the camp a body of horsemen
Was approaching with deadly will .
Thus we knew our sentry was on duty
And that doubtless all was well.
At a signal my warrior cavalry
Formed into straight line swells,
Crossing one another at center bends.
A moment later more smoke outspread,
Informing the camp we were friends --
Our signal had been rightly read.
(Here it is already time for Jim Thompson’s “Moon Men” ECOF and I have not finished my little experiment. However, this fragment may make a worthy addition to Tangor’s CD since it is indeed on topic. Reading these lines aloud may be an instructive consideration of ERB’s poetic language, which was kept intact as much as possible.)
May 12, 2000